Interlude – Book bricks and alien worlds

I’ve blogged for a fair few years now and I have proven myself to be easily distracted and distractable. This has manifested itself on other blogs in Interludes. I have reached the conclusion that, just because For Winter Nights is about books, it should not be spared the odd tangent or bush to beat about. And so tonight is the first in a new random and sporadic series of Interludes. Do feel free to look the other way and pass it by. It will go away.

This intermission in the reviews has been triggered by the fact that I cannot offer you a review of a book this evening because I am reading a novel that is so immense, the term ‘book’ seems inadequate. It is so big that a twitter friend informed me that its bulk saved her from a robbery in Italy. The knife went in the bag but before it could cause any damage it blunted itself on a copy of Peter F. Hamilton’s Pandora’s Star. It is unlikely that a kindle version could possess the same superhero qualities although it might have the benefit of easing my lower back. This is not a book to be taken, or carried, lightly.

Pandora's Star by Peter F HamiltonWhile I am pleased to report that Pandora’s Star is an excellent and engrossing read that races along at quite a pace, it has made me think about the investment that we place in such mighty 1100+ paged books. The price, in this case under £8, is not proportionate to their size and it is true to say that a science fiction space opera presents admirable value for money. For less than the price of a couple of pints or a fish and chips supper you can have a novel that will, hopefully, engross you and entertain you for a week or more. And the sense of achievement when it’s done! Until, of course, as in this case, you discover that the sequel is even longer.

There is something very satisfying about reading your way through a massive tome. It might be inconvenient in terms of its size but as you watch the progression of the pages, moving from virginal and barely touched to utterly devoured, stained by red wine, torn by bag zips and creased by everything else that has squeezed its way into the confined space, it’s impossible to avoid the sense of pride and accomplishment that you have read this book. You have seen it through and it has rewarded you, hopefully, with a fleet of memories. Years ago, I used to think of this as a Stephen King Thing – I can recall the pleasure of spending summer after summer reading his monumental novels curled up in a garden chair. These days it’s very much a Science Fiction Thing with me, as I try to work my way round some of the leading or most popular figures of the genre.

So why am I happy to invest so much of my time in a science fiction novel of this extent? It can be summed up by sheer escapism. The awe and wonder that I feel when my imagination is challenged and invited to fly to new worlds, times, places. The world building runs hand in hand with the plot, it might even take the lead, but all the time I feel that I’m in a race towards something that will amaze me. ‘Something wonderful’ is going to happen even if it’s nasty and means that the entire human race will be blown up or eaten. I’m not looking for a happy ending, I’m after the endeavour of my fellow humans travelling into the unknown, fearful but excited.

The special effects are rarely wonky in a good novel and the 3D is perfectly visualised in my head should the prose be sufficiently evocative. If all goes well, I can spend a week offworld completely addicted to its strangeness and surprises.

I am no astrophysicist, I find even the simplest science hard enough to fathom, but that shouldn’t matter if a writer writes well and creates believable people (and aliens and machines and robots and habitats and so much more) in extraordinary settings. When it works, as it most certainly does with Pandora’s Star, then the longer the book the better.


5 thoughts on “Interlude – Book bricks and alien worlds

  1. Robin's Books

    Have you read any Neal Stephenson? They are all compelling house bricks. I must confess that since I’ve started reviewing, I rarely pick up large books. I have so many books to read, I can’t possibly spend a fortnight reading one of them! Doesn’t stop me buying them though. I do occasionally contemplate having a ‘year of the brick’ , but then think of all the other books I’d miss out on! So many books, so little time…

    1. Kate (For Winter Nights) Post author

      Morning Robin! I haven’t read any Stephenson yet – I’m unsure if I’d get into them but I’ve been assured that I will like them so I will give one a go later. But it is a major commitment for a reviewer especially to read one of these massive tomes! I have books building up which I can normally read in two or three days and here I am off galavanting for a week with Hamilton! I’ll be hard pressed not to go straight into the sequel too. But I must say that reading Pandora’s Star is one of the best reading experiences I’ve had in a long time. I often wish some books were longer and this one gives me everything I want.I just have to ignore the plaintiff cries from the neglected books on the TBR shelf… ‘read me! read me!’

  2. Ian Turner

    I have great sympathy with your plight as I tend to pick up “door-stop” type books. However, I would like to know if on this occasion your “science fiction” is really so. To me science fiction is only truly named if the fiction comes out of the science as in Arthur C Clarke’s “The Fountains of Paradise” for example. So much of what is glibly passed off as science fiction is in my opinion nothing of the kind. For example “Star Wars” . This story of a small group of fighters taking on an evil regime could have been set anywhere any time it is mere happenstance that George Lucas set in a galaxy far, far away. Alright enough on one of my pet moans. On the subject of Neal Stephenson I suggest that you try his trilogy on Isaac Newton and the other seventeenth century scientists. They are “Quicksilver” , “The Confusion” and “The System of the World” they are all big books but in my opinion they are well worth the time.

  3. Robin's Books

    Whilst I agree with Ian, Stepenson’s Baroque Cycle is peerless, if you come at them cold, you may want to poke your eyes out so you never read again. The level of detail in Quicksilver is pretty overwhelming. I remember getting to page 800 still wondering if I was enjoying it. I’d suggest starting with Cryptomonicon which is a sort of companion novel (tho it came first).

    PS Ian, I have limited experience of Peter F Hamilton, but I would say they are Sci Fi.


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